About Refugees, By Refugees

Om Ahmad

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Photo and interview by:




Yousif Al Shewaili

As long as I stay here, my purpose will always be leaving this place,” says Om Ahmad (pseud, 52) of Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece. She and her family fled Syria “because of the current situation.” It was “a death journey,” she says, recalling their boat filling with water and gasoline: “each and every moment, we say we’re all going to die.” Life in the camp is “indescribable.” She never imagined she’d live in “a tent that the poorest person on earth would not accept living in.” The emotional toll is significant. “Everything is hard… sleeping at night is scary… We live in fear, fear of cold in winter and heat in summer… Fear is everywhere.” Despite this, Om says, “a better day will come.” She adds, “My strengths are my kids.” As for the future, “I want to live with my husband in a good and healthy house with nice windows and a tree to rest in its shades. We want to have basic things, nothing more.” Om asks Europeans to “have mercy on us. Let us live a good life.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hi, how are you? Yes, hi, how are you? How is your health?

fixing the headphones, crowded voices – environment around the speakers
Hello, should I speak? I am fine. Better?

How are you doing? Are you okay?
Hi, I am fine. Thank God, how are you? 

What kind of housing do you live in and where?
I live in Greece, uh … Mytilene Island, in Moria (Moria Camp). In a tent, quite a big tent, but in bad conditions. 

Can you describe your situation here In General?
Tent’s situation is… how to say? We eat and drink inside the tent. In winter, we suffer from cold. The tent’s floor is wooden and there is not even one blanket beneath us. I mean, the situation is bad. We have been sick during this winter. In summer, it is very hot inside and outside. There is no water. Electricity gets cut for ten days and goes back for one day. We have been using wood to cook. I mean we can’t even enjoy our food, and no good meal 

Who do you live with?
I live with my husband, my son, my daughter, and . my nephew (our relative) 

How do you enjoy your  Life? Ah, or what is your daily routine first?
My daily routine… We wake up early in winter, because we sleep early. Due to the absence of any source of entertainment. No TV, there is nothing,  So, we sleep early and wake up early in winter. In summer, we are forced to wake up early because of the sun, The tent is closed all the night, the tent’s door is closed all the night, we can’t even open the window 

No safety! No safety! We are afraid. Even while sleeping, we wake up every time and then, we hear the tiniest voice outside the tent. We feel it, we wake up immediately, we are scared,  It is not safe. There is no safety at all.

What things do entertain you in life?
Here in Moria?

No, in life in general.
Before coming here, I used to see my kids going to schools. I used to clean the house, cook and such routines.
That was our way of entertainment. We used to go to parks, stay up late and visit our relatives.
Here, there is nothing like that. No entertainment. Always the same routine, a boring routine. Or if you have to do paperwork or  visit the doctor. For visiting a doctor, Now, you have to wait about 4 days to get an appointment with the doctor.

How have you been since you arrived in the European Union?
On our way here, we were happy that we are going to Europe, the land of freedom and democracy. But, once we arrived, we were shocked when we saw the camp. Living here is inhumane. Humanity suffers here. No humanity, not mercy. I am too old. I am a 52-years-old woman. This place is not for humans. We have issues with bathrooms and toilets. We have to go for long distances to get water. In winter, walking in mud is dangerous and hard. If you get sick, fall down or break a leg, the doctor will just give you antibiotics.
Not a good medicine

What is the good thing of being here?
The good thing here is the dream that I will get out of here someday. I want to leave. As long as I stay here, my purpose will always be leaving this place in god’s well 

What is the most difficult thing here?
Everything is hard here.
In general, everything is hard, l. sleeping at night is scary . We are afraid of thieves, afraid of getting involved in unwanted issues and afraid of this forest to get burned or any other problems. We live in fear, fear of cold in winter and heat in summer. We are worried about our kids getting involved in troubles. Fear is everywhere.

How has living here affected you? What has changed in you?
Living here is tough. It has made me look like I am 20 years older. It feels different now from the first time I arrived here. Now I have a slipped disc. My back is hurting because of all the errands I run.
I have to do some paperwork, fill some documents, walk to the toilets and wait, sometimes, we have to wait for two hours .. two hours..  to take a bath, 

What is your feeling to be away from home, family and friends?
Homeland is precious ,friends are precious , family is more than precious.  . No one dislikes his family or his country,  the place  where he grew up. Our homeland is so precious. Especially us  Arabs, in general our homeland is precious  No matter what I say, I always love my homeland. We wish to go back safely, live peacefully and normally. It is the war that led to our leave.

Have you imagined that one day you will face such a different life and hardship?
I have never ever imagined that I would live in a tent, a tent that the poorest person on earth would not accept living in. How do I say this? It is indescribable. There are rats, snakes and insects everywhere. The health situation is bad, and the environment is not clean.

Do you think that you have adapted to such a new environment and become able to handle this new situation? Have you learned new skills?
No, I lacked some skills. I have never cooked using wood. I had to use wood to cook food. I had to carry water from long distances, about 100 meter long. I have never imagined that I would carry water like this or live without electricity.

How has coronavirus affected your wellbeing, daily routine and lifestyle?
Here in Moria, there is no luxurious life. If you want to go out, you cannot. It is not allowed to go outside. Bathrooms are always crowded. There are joint bathrooms, you can see 10 or 100 people waiting for their turns. How is it possible to prevent the spread of corona in such an unhealthy and unclean environment? It is just about your inner cleanness. May God protect us from corona.

Can you tell me why you left your country? What happened?
It is all because of the current situation in Syria. The world knows what is going on in Syria.

What was your feeling when you were about to leave?
As I told you.  Homeland is precious. My homeland is beyond value. But we had to leave. We wanted for our kids to attend schools and study. This is one thing. The other thing is that we wanted to be safe and live in peace.

How was your journey to the European Union?
It was a death journey. We traveled by a boat. There were approximately  52 people onboard. The boat was  20 meters long, no it was 10 , no more than 10 … death journey…. by the time we were waiting to arrive, we faced death in every single moment for the whole duration of the journey, the full 4 hours.
Each and every moment, we say we are going all to die. But thank god, we arrived in peace  .

Have you encountered any unforgettable experience during this journey
Yes. I remember that the boat got filled with water and gasoline . It got full of both. It took the rescue team and the new boat to get to us about an hour. We spent an hour waiting for the rescue boat to arrive.

How was you feeling when water and petrol got mixed together?
My feeling was, you know, it was frightening. We were afraid to die at any moment. My family was onboard; me, my kids, my daughter, my married son and his pregnant wife and my son’s daughter.

Do you sometimes recall these incidents? Is there something that you think about?
Yes, I do think about what happened. I think about how God helped us to arrive safe. It is His God’s well  that saved us. But it was a difficult journey and I don’t advise anybody to do the same

When you remember this journey, what was the most difficult part of it?
I told you. It is when the boat became full of water and gasoline .

Do you always remember this incident?
And the waves  were  high., but we had to sail and go on anyway.

Are these incidents affecting you now? And how?
Yes of course. Psychologically, we are exhausted and weak. My husband, the kids and I. The current situation we are in now is affecting us. .

Have you imagined that one day you could’ve mentally survived these incidents?
We have to be strong and patient, it’s a must . We have to move on and try to look ahead. We must leave this place. This place is uninhabitable and inhumane. We ask  the European Union and its states to reconsider the living circumstances of the Syrian refugees and all refugees, in general. If we were Europeans, would they accept this kind of living? Nobody does. Why do they put us in such situations ?

How did manage to survive and live with the current situation? Do you a mechanism? Did you get any moral support from anybody? A support that helped you to be patient even though you said that you have and must be patient…
I am forced, forced to be patient.  I only have to say that it is in God’s will, a period of time that will pass. In god’s well it will not last long, so we pass this stage and forget about it. In God’s will, a better day will come. 

What was your dream before the occurrence of the war and leaving Syria?
Before the crisis and the situation in Syria, my dream was to send my kids to school, to help my oldest  son to get married, to live peacefully, to enjoy going out and such activities. I wanted for my children to go to college and live happily.

Before leaving your house, what was your future dream? Can you tell me what it was?
As I told you. My future dream was to see my kids grow up, go to schools and colleges and get jobs.

Like the same old dream?
Yes, the same dream. In Syria it was the same 

What were your strengths before leaving your homeland?
I didn’t  get  the question.

Your strengths and the things that made you strong and powerful?
My strengths are my kids. I want to leave so they get the chance to be educated, to be people of worth in the future. I don’t  not want them to face the same situation that we faced. I want them to be graduate, to become financially stable and psychologically strong, to live in peace, and safe. To live in a healthy home and a generous life is what I wished and still wish for.  

You have been through a tough experience; do you think that it has helped you develop mentally and therefore accept the situation as it is? Have you learned or acquired some positive skills?
I have learned how to be patient…  in god’s well
, in god’s well ..  to get what we want .. . We just want to live in dignity, nothing more. I want my kids to live a prosperous life in which all their dreams come true, and to be able to study and get degrees, and for those who don’t want to learn, maybe learn a craft. My husband and I are too old. We want to go to a park, hang out, live happily and enjoy ourselves. We are really exhausted.

What are your future hopes and dreams?
My future dreams and hopes are to go to Germany and visit my brothers and sisters who I have not seen for 4 years, as well as meeting my relatives. I also hope to see my children get educated  there.
I want to live with my husband in a good and healthy house with nice windows and a tree to rest in its shades. We want to have basic things, nothing more. We want only to have a good life, good food and a good house.

Would you like to add something or send a message
Yes, for sure. I want to ask the European Union, Germany and Merkel to reconsider and think of the Syrian refugees’ situation. They are not welcomed in Greece as refugees. Our homeland is in war. The world knows the situation and the war in Syria. Greece is refusing to let the Syrian refugees in. We are facing challenges here in Greece. Healthy people who are aged 64 or 65,even if he is a healthy person, he must pretend to be sick in order to leave Greece. That is what I ask, have mercy on us, and let us live a good life.  

Thank you so much.
Thank you.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.